Thursday, March 26, 2015

Breaks in school? #YourEduStory

This week's topic: You're either in, just past or about to get to spring break. What are your thoughts on breaks - is there really a "slide"? how long is too long? how short is just right?

I still have many nightmares of all of the math workbooks and fake stock markets I had to do in the summers growing up. My dad was and still is a firm believer in keeping students educated at all times, to prevent the "slide." So, the first day of every summer, we'd hit up the local book store and library to check out books and get workbooks. He'd also give us simulations. For instance, one year, we had to invest with fake money in the stock market, track our stocks, and see who (my brother or myself) had profited the most. Yes, I was well aware of the stock market and its inner-workings by the age of 12. 

Do I resent my dad for all of this education? No. Did I enjoy it at the time? No.

I think about my days as a classroom teacher and my present job as a teacher of teachers. Under our ten-month schooling system, there is a definite end and beginning to the year. If you've been in the classroom, you know how behavioral incidents spike in the spring. You also know all of the nerves that come at the beginning of the year. These exist because there is a definite start and there is a definite end. Can we say all students progress at the same rate? No.

So, their learning progress may or may not match that of the typical school year. I don't think short breaks are inherently bad. How do you feel after a short break? I feel a little refreshed and a little more ready to power through. The brain is a muscle. And, like other muscles, they can benefit from short, active rest. However, long, passive rest can lead to deterioration. This is rather simple. We need short breaks in education, If we don't have enough, those breaks become passive because we are too worn out to be active. However, if we have too many, our bodies do not know how to keep going. 

This lends itself to year-round schooling with short, active breaks. However, this is also a two-part change. The grade-level restrictions that we currently use in schools also need to be revised. If we adjust our school schedule so that learning is optimal, we must also adjust our definitions of learning progress. 

I can recall numerous students (including my brother) who learned at a different pace. There was nothing wrong with their pace, but the school schedule caused it to be a problem. 

In my classroom (during my last year of classroom teaching), I moved to objectives-mastery. No longer did I grade based upon a one-time attempt. Instead, I gave my students objective sheets at the beginning of each unit. They had to master each of those objectives - even if it carried on longer. Was this hard to manage in a traditional school? Yes. But, I did see students who had struggled or given up (and never even started) begin to make progress.

Do we need breaks in school? Yes. We also need to restructure our school schedule and our definition of grade levels. 

What do you think about breaks in school? Mine took a tangent into grade-level definitions, but I feel the two are interconnected. 

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